Harley Davidson Case Study

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Harley Davidson was founded in Milwaukie, Wisconsin in 1903, and has been manufacturing motorcycles continuously since conception (Harley Davidson DVD, 2008). The company is now one of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturers and controls 26% of all motorcycle sales in the USA, and a massive 50% of the heavyweight segment (Armstrong & Kotler, p129). The Harley Davidson name is an incredibly strong brand in the world today. Not many people in western culture could hear the name Harley Davidson and not conjure up thoughts of the powerful, throaty sounding machines carrying their riders across the country. One rider describes the feeling of freedom a Harley Davidson motorcycle inspires as having “the road to yourself” (Harley Davidson DVD, 2008). It is the perceptions and images of the Harley Davidson products and performance that form the underlying strength of the brand (Armstrong & Kotler, 2010, p210).

Armstrong and Kotler (2010, p214) suggest that there are 3 factors involved in the creation of a strong brand: attributes, benefits, and beliefs and values. Although attributes and benefits can be easily copied by competitors (and in the case of Harley Davidson, there are many competitors in the heavyweight motorcycle industry with similar products), it is the beliefs and values of consumers that really build the strongest brands. But, in today’s market, even the strongest of brands need to be carefully managed to ensure that it maintains its value to the most important consumers – the customers.

A value proposition is “the set of beliefs or values it promises to deliver to customers to satisfy its needs” (Armstrong & Kotler, 2010, p9). With this in mind, it appears that the Harley Davidson value proposition begins with the company’s vision statement - “We fulfil dreams inspired by the many roads of the world by providing extraordinary motorcycles and customer experiences. We fuel the passion for freedom in our customers to express their own individuality” (H-D Student Centre, 2010). It is the belief that Harley Davidson products allow people to fulfil their dreams of freedom and express their individuality that comprise the core value proposition of the Harley Davidson brand. Ryan Eichler, a spokesperson for the company, suggests that the outlaw-like image of the Harley Davidson rider gives people a way to express themselves in a way that may be totally different from their routine life. He suggests that owners can get on their motorcycles and “become a different person” (Harley Davidson Video Case, 2008).

Although these beliefs are an extremely strong supporter of the organisation, there is much more to creating a successful business than inspiring brand images. It is often the customer relationship that keeps a brand strong, promoting loyal customers who will purchase many products the company has to offer. Harley Davidson undertakes many initiatives each year to manage and nurture customer relationships and connection. In fact, the organisation even goes so far as to mention the connection with their customers in the company mission statement – “We ride with our customers and apply this deep connection in every market we serve to create superior value for all of our stakeholders” (H-D Student Centre, 2010). Every year Harley Davidson sponsors and arranges events such as motorcycle rallies and cross country tours, and general get togethers (Harley Davidson Video Case, 2008). The current Harley Owners Group (HOG) has over 90, 000 active members around the world making it the world’s largest company sponsored owners club (Harley Davidson DVD, 2008). It is this relationship with its riders that is the key to the ongoing success of the company as it not only provides those members with a sense of belonging (through the status associated with historical event participation), but also keeps the “product buying” consumers within close reach of marketing research teams. In essence, through interacting with the HOG...
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